Written by by Atty. Anna Iglesias
Published on preservesagada.wordpress.com
It was September 2003. We took a bus to Baguio on a whim, and hung out at the saloon beside the bus station early in the morning, watching men with cowboy hats down their beer. Sagada, my friend told me, let’s go. We didn’t know anybody there, we didn’t have much money, and I was playing hooky from school. It was an adventure of a lifetime, my longest joyride yet, off to a still unknown place that promised hanging coffins and mysterious caves.
Seven hours passed. The first half, I was asleep and my friend was awake. The second half, she was asleep and I was awake. I peered at the ravine precariously close to the rough, dirt road. We were in a rickety bus, the only tourists there (it was typhoon season), in fairly comfortable seats, sharing our space with a few squawking chickens, and families commuting from Baguio. A few minutes away from the town proper, our rickety bus stopped in its tracks. There was a fallen boulder on the road, and we craned our necks, whispering among ourselves. An elderly man decidedly hipster in appearance with his statement black hat, and horn-rimmed glasses, alighted from the bus and started walking. It didn’t take long before the rest of us followed. It all seemed so surreal that we just had to laugh. A landslide occurred just hours before we arrived, and everyone was so chill about it.
We badly needed to get to a restroom and tried our luck with one of the houses just outside Sagada town proper. The kindly woman let us use her bathroom and talked to us a little. She showed us pictures of her children and welcomed us to Sagada. What a warm welcome in one of the – if not the coldest place in the Philippines.
We stayed at Ganduyan Inn. We marveled at the sturdy brown furniture, the beautiful and simple furnishings. There was a coffee shop downstairs, and the buses bound for Baguio parked right outside. Across Ganduyan Inn, people set up tables and sold fresh vegetables.
We bought ourselves a bottle of wine and spent the night drinking and smoking by the balcony, and even spotted a member of Parokya Ni Edgar in the fancier lodge across, vacationing with his girlfriend.
We looked for a tour guide and went trekking, ill-prepared for the steep trail ahead. I had a near asthma attack, but it did not ruin the wonder of beholding the hanging coffins for the first time. The rest of us bury our loved ones under the earth, and horror films capitalize on our fear of what lies beneath the ground. In Sagada, the air was light, and the serenity of the spirits told us much more.
After our trek, we returned to the municipal hall. The local police there, Kuya Raffy, instantly recognized us. You arrived two days ago, he said, I saw you walking around. We were pleasantly surprised. People took notice of us, the eager beavers. We helped Kuya Raffy type up a police report and showed them how to watch DVDs on their brand-new computer. Sagada has a zero crime rate, we learned.
We left for Baguio sooner than we should have. The realities of living and studying in Manila invaded such an idyllic visit. But our love for Sagada took root in that all too brief encounter. My friend would return, years later, and found her place.
I returned with my boyfriend and our other friends, for a visit, in 2010. I wanted to see the caves. Sumaguing was closed in 2003. My boyfriend and I went spelunking – such a fancy word. Light of foot, he traipsed over the slippery slopes. I was slow and clumsy, and at one point, came dangerously close to killing our tour guide. (Glad he forgave me!) The cave formations were beautiful, just like the postcard I kept. I was covered in mud, bat shit and piss but earned bragging rights. I talked about Sumaguing for days to my friends and officemates in Manila. You should come visit Sagada, I said sagely.
We ate at all the restaurants we could find – sampled the lemon pie, the yoghurt, the spaghetti, the French cuisine. We wandered around the town at midnight, and found ourselves joining an impromptu bonfire, swapping stories about Sagada. We had beer every night of our stay. Even the beer tastes better in Sagada. We visited the famous shop that showcased beautiful Sagada weaving and happily chatted with the owner. He only stayed in Manila long enough to get an education and returned to his roots.
Leaving Sagada was hard. Back in Manila, we wanted to clear the streets of noisy buses and cars. We wanted our feet closer to the earth, where its heart beat for those who would stop to listen. We wanted to feel light and free, and outside of Sagada, it’s difficult to find such inner peace.
People fall in love with Sagada all the time. I am no different.
It’s been over a year since my last visit. I miss the people of Sagada. I miss pretending to be a local. I want Sagada to love me back. I want Sagada to embrace me as an adopted child.